Ratepayers across Wellesley face a small fee increase in each of the next five years to cover the cost of an inspection program that evaluates the health of private septic systems in St. Clements and Linwood, the township deciding protecting drinking water was a common good.
Exploring a number of options, councillors meeting Tuesday decided that some 3,500 properties would be assessed an additional $0.50 per year to inspect the 57 septic systems identified under the Grand River Source Protection Plan.
Under provincial regulations, inspections must be carried out every five years. When the province introduced the measures in 2015, it provided funding to municipalities to cover the cost. For the next cycle, due to start in 2020, there’s currently no outside money to cover the bill of an estimated $8,636.
To fund the program this time around, the township looked at spreading the load across the entire tax base ($0.50 per year), charging water customers in Linwood and St. Clements ($2.23 per year), making each of the 57 property owners pay ($151.51), or simply absorbing the costs into township expenses.
Staff recommended the village funding option, but council went with the township-wide levy, deeming it fair.
“This model states that the costs would be shared equally across all property owners throughout the township. It would imply that keeping the well aquifers safe from septic contamination benefits all residents within the township,” the report from Darryl Denny says of council’s preferred option.
A decision didn’t come without debate, however, including a discussion about conflict-of-interest rules, as Ward 4 Coun. Carl Smit said that he couldn’t vote because his property is one of the 57 with a septic system.
“I didn’t gain anything by this. I’m going to lose something by this. So I don’t see it as pecuniary gain,” said Smit.
“From my understanding of a conflict of interest… if a member of council is in line or representative of a significant number of residents, then there is no conflict of interest because he’s not representing a personal point of view,” said Ward 3 Coun. Peter van der Maas in response.
As a result, council made a slight amendment of the technical parts of the meeting, where the mover of the council was changed, but the recommendation remained the same.
In setting the rates, the township opted to build in inflationary increases to adjust for rising prices over the course of the program. Costs and the program itself will be re-evaluated by staff before the next round of re-inspections starting in 2026.
The re-inspection program will require property owners to have their septic tanks pumped out and provide verification to the building department, with the average cost in the village for this procedure between $350-400.
Although agreeing to a cost-recovery formula, Mayor Joe Nowak noted that funding could come from other sources, perhaps altering the model again.
“The region had put some money into that last time it had to be done. … From my understanding, the region is considering doing the same thing again this year, but there’s nothing formally decided yet,” said Nowak.
“In January, February, it’s going to come to regional council for approval, so we’ll have to see what the proposal is. There could be some money to help out with that.”